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Toys R Us stores will become play places

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Ann Hermes/Staff/File

(Read caption) Toys "R" Us stores such as this one in Framingham, Mass., may soon include play areas for kids while their parents shop.

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Toys R Us knows it can’t usually beat prices from the likes of Amazon and Wal-Mart. So it’s going to try to become a place your kids want to come to play.

The company will open a prototype store this year with expanded floor space devoted to play areas and new technology for children to interact with, its chief executive said Tuesday at an event in New York.

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The plan, according to CEO Antonio Urcelay, is to make all of the chain’s stores more attractive destinations for children — presumably giving Mom and Dad more time to spend money while they’re there.

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“It has to be something where kids want to go and play,” Urcelay told Bloomberg. “We have to reinforce that we are a specialist.”

The company, which has about 870 Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores in the United States and another 730 internationally, already offers price matching. But the past decade has seen the toy market become increasingly crowded, as online shopping has exploded in popularity and discounters like Wal-Mart and Target have aggressively gone after shoppers.

Since Urcelay took the reins in 2013, Toys R Us — once publicly traded but taken private in 2006 — has worked to address issues like making lines faster, cleaning stores more often and adding more lighting. Sales dipped 1% last year, according to Bloomberg, improving from a drop of 5% in 2013.

“We progressed a lot,” Urcelay told Bloomberg. “But there are still a lot of things to do.”